On the 6th April 1880, Frederick Leach noted, ‘Mr How asks me to meet him on tomorrow to confer about taking his shop and goods’. This was the premises at 3 St Mary’s Passage. On 17th April, Frederick called in on his elder sister, Isa, at Waltham Abbey on his way back to Cambridge from London, to talk through arrangements for her and her daughter, Kate, to come and live above the shop.
Isabella had run her own drapery shop in Waltham Abbey before she was married. In 1858, she married Charles Simpson who worked at the local gunpowder mills and they had four children, only three surviving. Charles was killed in an accident at work in 1870. In the 1871 census, Isa’s occupation is dressmaker.
Frederick Leach paid a total of nearly £300 for ‘goodwill and stock in trade’ as well as for the premises, receiving the keys on the 20th April. The following week Isa paid a visit to look over the house and in early May Frederick arranged for the living accommodation to be remodelled.
It appears that Isabella not only came to live at St Mary’s Passage but went into business with her brother and ran the shop with her daughter. A tradecard in the archive from this time is headed ‘Leach and Simpson’. It is not clear how long this arrangement lasted but an undated letter in the Leach archive from Isa to Frederick marks its apparently abrupt and unhappy ending: ‘I may as well tell you now I am writing that in all probability I, or we rather, shall be leaving Cambridge so I think when the present orders of needlework are completed you may as well arrange with someone else and then it will not cause any confusion as my movements will be very uncertain for some time hence. I trust the word obligation applies to both you and I and if I have failed in not turning business to as good an account as it was hoped, I ask you to forget I was ever amongst it but I did my best for your interests conscientiously. Therefore I think that is all for the present, except that I shall see you before my exodus’.
A cartoon caricature of Frederick Leach from this period, affectionately penned by his eldest son, Barnett, pictures him smiling and gesticulating in the shop, looking very dandyish in his heels, frilled cuffs and fitted trousers. The tail of a beloved dog can also be seen. Frederick here looks every inch the interior designer and it appears he did have a reputation as such in Cambridge at least. In 1885, Maud Darwin, having just moved into The Granary (now Darwin College), wrote to her sister Ella du Puy fretting about how to decorate her new home: ‘The men are waiting for the papers and paint to be chosen . . . I was in despair, when a happy thought struck me, why not have Mr Leach? Mr Leach is a man who has a great deal of taste and people send all over England for him to do their houses. So now he is a person in whom I shall have confidence and who is experienced. He lives in Cambridge’.